The Recipe for Creative Genius

The Recipe for Creative Genius

Yearning to Be More Creative

75% of people think they are not living up to their creative potential (source). More often we read articles and white papers reporting that CEOs and hiring managers are looking for more creative employees to solve problems in their company. When I speak to educators about innovation, I connect with many people that want to be more creative but are unsure how to do this. It is not easy to simply tap into your creative genius. However, the quote below beautifully summarizes the recipe for reaching your creative potential. One part childlike spirit and one part discipline. This post deconstructs this quote, and outlines “creative hacks” you can use to tap into your creative genius.

Creativity is a combination of discipline and a childlike spirit.

A Look At ‘Childlike Spirit’

There are three qualities children possess that should make all of us super jealous: passionate curiosity, an incredible imagination, and a complete lack of respect for the status quo. All of the most creative people I know or read about possess each of these qualities. And those that lack creativity often illustrate the opposite.

Passionate Curiosity

We may get annoyed by the toddler that always asks why, but I am a firm believer that the road to innovation is paved with thoughtful questions. If you are struggling to live up to your creative potential, here is one thing you can do: learn about a topic or skill that has nothing to do with your job, or your next promotion. Your brain is like a series of doors that open up to new rooms. The more doors you open, the better equipped you are to find unique solutions to complex problems. If you want to read more about this phenomenon, do some research on the adjacent possible. Basically the theory tells us that even though we may not need to be a good chef to do our job as an account executive, taking a cooking class will actually open up new ways of thinking that will help us solve problems in our work. Feed your curiosity by asking questions, and learning about things that have nothing to do with your 9-5.

Incredible Imagination

If you sit and listen to a child tell a story for longer than a minute, chances are you can get swept away into a far off land with people and things that defy the impossible. Whether it be frogs that talk, alligators that are friends with puppies, or house made out of lollipops, children dream up the darnedest things. The most creative in your industry also have wild imaginations. One thing I recommend to those that struggle with imagination, is to take an improv class. The core principle of improvisation is something called the “yes and” principle. In improv theater you work with others to tell a story or act out a skit. If your partner starts down a path for a story that you perhaps didn’t think of, you can’t just say “stop do it my way.” You have to say “yes and,” and then follow that with a convincing addition to the story. This exercise of storytelling with partners can be replicated fairly easy. Do it with your team as part of a staff meeting. The more you practice improv the better you will become at developing your imagination.

Complete Lack of Respect for The Status Quo

Have you ever heard a child say, “I wanted to have pancakes for dinner, but since that’s not a traditional dinner I will have chicken instead?” No! Children could care less what has always been done. They don’t allow the status quo dictate what should or shouldn’t be in their world. One of the biggest problems I see is people doing things because it’s the way it’s always been done. We do it more often than we think. We get in our comfort zone using processes, forms, technology, or even people that we have grown comfortable with.

When I worked at Rutgers, year after year the orientation staff would be hit up by every department on campus to have their “15 minutes” with the orientation leaders. Everyone wanted to stand in front of the orientation leaders and tell them what new students needed to know about dining halls, residence halls, learning communities, you name it. The problem is that is BORING. Our orientation leaders would hardly stay awake listening to one talking head after another. But, that is the way it always had been done, and the hardest place to challenge tradition…is on a college campus. In these situations, I like to use idea-blending to help me push beyond the status quo. Idea blending is essentially an exercise where you ask yourself how would a ____ (fill in the blank with a celebrity or a completely different profession) solve this problem. In this training dilemma, I knew I needed to accommodate the department heads, while making it more engaging and entertaining for the students. So I thought, how would Jimmy Fallon solve this problem? He would turn it in to a talk show! We chose some of our most charismatic staff members and students to serve as the talk show host, and they interviewed the department heads. We set it up like a talk show, and even took questions from the audience. Problem solved. This works in a variety of fields and industries. If you are a data scientist and you need to communicate your data in a way that engages people, think how would an artist solve this problem? If you are in recruiting and struggling to get your job postings out to good talent, think how would Coca Cola’s marketing team solve this problem? Idea blending is a great way to get yourself to think beyond what’s always been done.

A Look At ‘Discipline’

You can come up with the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t have the discipline to simplify or execute, then all your creative work is worthless. The best do it better because they are able to simplify and execute. Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these components related to discipline.


image1This sign sits in my office right in front of me every day. Most of my job relies on my ability to simplify. One of my all time favorite quotes is “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” We have all seen an event, a flier, or a program that was too cluttered or too complex. Creative work is simple. It’s easy to understand, and it has a sleek sophisticated look and feel. One way I try to simplify my work is by using the “one sentence” objective. No matter what you are working on, begin by writing down one sentence that summarizes the goal or purpose of your initiative. If you are writing a press release, narrow down the point you are communicating in one sentence. If you are planning an event, narrow down the purpose of the event to one sentence. Then, when you face the tough decision about what to include in the press release, or what vendors you need at the event, you can use the one sentence as a test. If the extra paragraph in your press release has nothing to do with your one sentence objective, get rid of it. If a fancy new vendor wants to set up a photo booth at your event and it doesn’t contribute to the purpose of the event, cut the photo booth. I use this when developing presentations as well. You will always want to include more words, bells, whistles, and things. The one sentence objective is a great way to discipline yourself, and simplify your initiative, deliverable, or message.


The best creatives out there are the ones that get things done. There is a great site that is dedicated to helping creatives get things done — is a site I would highly recommend checking out if you struggle with this. The biggest pitfall of a creative is often getting stuck in the ideation phase. That is why discipline is such a critical component in the recipe for success. One practice that I use to help me get to that execution phase is prototyping. You will never feel completely ready to launch because nothing will ever feel perfect. So the best thing to do is figure out what your minimum viable product looks like. When you think about your project, how far do you need to take it before you can put it in front of a test audience? This does not need to be perfect, it just needs to be something. Then launch that prototype with a test or pilot audience. Get feedback from them, make iterations, and re-launch. This process not only helps you to execute, it also helps you gain valuable feedback in the design process with your pilot audience. There will always be things you don’t think of when you are building it, and you won’t know these things until it’s out their in the wild being used or consumed by some sort of audience.


In Conclusion…

It’s so interesting how a simple quote can really resonate when you least expect it. For me, this quote about finding the balance between childlike spirit and discipline really spoke to me. Now that we have deconstructed it, you can see how much truth lies within this quote. I hope this has inspired you to try a few new things that will help you be more creative. What are some other tricks and tips you have used to help you think differently or find the discipline necessary to simplify and launch?


This article has 1 comment

  1. As a creative person that teaches improv it is easy for me to leap without looking. My biggest challenges is not leaping at everything and not simplifying enough. Getting better every day at that!
    Let us know if you are in San Diego and let’s do some improv!

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